Archive for March, 2004

3/30/04: More outlining

Word count: 63736 | Since last entry: 256 | This month: 10168 Went out with Kate and some friends for her birthday dinner, but got in a little work afterwards. I’m working on fleshing out the outline of the chapters I haven’t written yet. They have to sound just like the outlines of the existing chapters, especially in terms of suggesting details left out. This is made harder by the fact that I don’t know exactly what happens in some of those later chapters (though — gulp! — they aren’t all that far away now!). The good news is that I don’t have to stick to this outline going forward. It just has to sound plausible.

3/29/04: Outlining

Word count: 63736 | Since last entry: -4 | This month: 9912 The word count above is completely bogus, but I have no idea what the correct count should be. I have been working on the Book Proposal for most of the last 3 days and it now totals almost 14,000 words of tagline, synopsis, outline, author bio, sample chapters, and other stuff. (I wasted over two hours on Sunday fighting with Microsoft Word’s worthless “master documents” feature, and wound up doing what I’ve done every other time I’ve tried to use that: pasting the sample chapters right into the main document.) That’s a lot of words, and a lot of them are new, but a lot of them are rewritten or synopsized versions of previously existing words. How to count that? And the effort-per-word rate is completely different from drafting; I spent over 2 hours working on my 18-word tagline. (Currently it is: “What is killing the aliens? A computer hacker and his alien ex-lover are more involved than they know.” It’s a little flat, but it was the best I could do in under 20 words.) So, though my automatic word count doesn’t include the Proposal.doc file and shows a net change of only -4 words since the last entry, I’m giving myself a red star for the day on pure effort. Going to sleep now.

3/26/04: Done with Chapter A revisions

Word count: 63736 | Since last entry: -45 | This month: 9916 Found a few spare minutes today at work to finish revising the last scene of Chapter A (now Chapter B). Also moved part of the end of the next-to-the-last scene to the end to give the chapter a stronger finish. It’s not exactly a “wow” finish, but I think it’s more interesting than it would have been otherwise. I’m not 100% happy with the very last line, though. But by finishing it up at work I was able to do my copying today rather than having to stand in line at the copy shop tomorrow. Huzzah! So I’ll be sending the two revised Jason chapters to critique tomorrow. Still to do by April 5 for the Lupton contest: write query letter, revise chapter 1, prepare synopsis, come up with a snappy tagline, write outline, write other proposal sections (author bio, audience, similar books, movie potential, etc.), edit it all down to 30 pages, put it in the mail. Aiee. Do I really want to be putting in all this effort, knowing that it’ll be going into the contest as a first draft? And it’s going to cost $25 plus postage? Answer: yes, if I can. Because then I’ll have it, and when the MS is finished I’ll only have to revise it. And I might win $10,000!

3/24/04: Revision continues

Word count: 63736 | Since last entry: 236 | This month: 9961 Finished up Jason and Sienna’s second scene. The process of inserting new speeches, and moving existing speeches around, within a scene is kind of interesting in itself — it’s like a jigsaw puzzle, where you have to match the emotional tone of the new or moved piece to its surroundings (but I can also “repaint” the “edges” of a piece to make it fit in better). The tough part was showing that Jason could walk away, late enough in the negotiations that Sienna would take it as a very serious threat, but not so late that he’s already backing out on his commitments. I think I have succeeded in reshaping the power relationship between them as I desired. One more scene, fairly short, to revise and I’ll be done with this chapter for now. The biggest remaining problem is that I no longer have a wow finish for this chapter, since I moved the original finish of this chapter to the new Chapter Zero. Maybe this chapter doesn’t get a wow finish (but it’s the third chapter of a three-chapters-and-outline package, so it really should have one). I’ll sleep on it. I’m going to try to get these two chapters and a query letter ready in time for Saturday’s critique. Then I’ll work on the outline next week, give a quick brush-up to chapter 1, and put it all in the mail to the Lupton contest by Saturday April 3 (the deadline is April 5, by postmark). I realize I should really have had the whole package critiqued before sending it to the contest, but… well, time flies when you’re having fun. To bed early (well, earlier than I’ve managed lately) tonight.

3/23/04: Changing power relationships

Word count: 63736 | Since last entry: 471 | This month: 9725 Some writing of notes, some editing of existing dialog, and much new dialog in Jason and Sienna’s first two scenes together. I started out by writing a short list of “what do they want out of this meeting”, “what do and don’t they know”, “what have they done to prepare for the meeting”, and “what are they prepared to offer” — kind of a meeting agenda for each of them. The point is to change the power relationship between them, make Jason more of an actor and less of a reactor. As it stands right now, Sienna still takes the lead and keeps Jason off-balance for much of their time together (which is as it should be, really, considering that she’s an experienced terrorist and he’s just a computer programmer with an attitude). But I added some bits, especially at the beginning of the first scene and end of the second, that show how much he has to offer her and how badly she wants what he has. It’s kind of info-dumpy, it needs more smoothing and tweaking, but it’s getting there.

3/21/04: Rethinking Jason

Word count: 63736 | Since last entry: 351 | This month: 9254 After two days of no writing, spent the entire afternoon writing about 2600 words of notes to myself about Jason’s motivations. The reason I did this is that on Thursday I came to the point in Chapter A where Jason explains to Sienna — and the reader — why he’s so dedicated to kicking the aliens off the planet. Jason’s lack of motivation and personal stake in this area are the novel’s single biggest problem, but if I can nail it here I can make it work in the whole rest of the book. So in this rewrite Sienna won’t accept a facile “the aliens killed my parents, boo hoo” — he needs to explain his deep motivations. The new Chapter Zero makes it quite clear (I hope) that Jason is pissed at the aliens for what they’ve done to his world — their superior attitude (personified by Honesty, who is now a right bastard who always thought Jason wasn’t good enough for Clarity), their cultural imperialism, and the impact they’ve had on humanity — and the Cedar Point disaster was just the last straw. But now that I come to put that into words, I’m faced with the fact that Jason’s motivations don’t make any sense. See, Jason has to have been comfortable with the aliens or he would never have taken up with Clarity in the first place. So if you look at his behavior and attitudes over the course of the years 2050-2051, he has to go from 1) falling in love with an alien to 2) willing to risk his life to kick the aliens off his planet, to 3) willing to risk his life to save the aliens from the plague he started, if only because that’s the only way to keep the world from being blown up by the alien bad guy. That’s not a character arc the reader is likely to accept, no matter how well written. One 180-degree reversal would be hard enough to swallow, but two is impossible. (This might even be three reversals, if he started off with a negative attitude toward the aliens before he took up with Clarity.) So I needed to come up with a powerful motivation that would support this behavior. Yes, this is changing the character to match the plot, which is a big problem of mine, but I’ve got too much time invested in this plot to want to do it over. Pout. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and consideration of many alternate Jasons (such as the “I hate the aliens, I hate myself for loving this alien, I think I’ll lash out at the aliens because I can’t accept my own feelings” Jason — who reminds me too much of Roy Cohn for me to want him spending the next six months or so in my head), I wound up with pretty much the same Jason I started with, except that he starts out more self-centered (thinking of Clarity only as a sex-buddy) and goes through a character arc where he moves from shallowness and resentment to understanding the interwoven destiny of humans and Taurans — perhaps in the end he does come to love Clarity, especially when he realizes that Cedar Point was not the aliens’ fault. Perhaps this love is what motivates him to make the ultimate sacrifice at the climax (though I don’t yet know what it is), saving both species. But what is it that he wants more than anything else? I decided that Jason, at heart, is a puzzle-solver. His strength and his weakness is that he’s very, very good at it, and a really meaty puzzle can grab him by the nose and lead him into some very stupid places in search of a solution. At the beginning of the novel he sets himself the puzzle of breaking the aliens’ hold on his planet, and by solving that puzzle he builds himself and his planet an even harder one. Is “solve any puzzle” really a novel-protagonist-level motivation? Maybe, if the personal stakes are high enough. So I need to find a way to put Jason into a position where he must take action — where he can reasonably forsee serious, personal consequences if he does not act or if he attempts and fails. Cedar Point is just the tipping-point… it has to be the thing that convinces him that the aliens (who have been on the planet his whole life) are going to destroy humanity-as-he-knows-it if he doesn’t take action. I think I may be able to do that, by making him even more (justifiably!) angry at the aliens and the effect they have had on Earth, and on him personally. This runs the risk of making the aliens less sympathetic, but I do have Clarity’s PoV to show their side of the story, and in the end most of what Jason is angry about is not their fault anyway. This involved a few changes in Chapter Zero, not many, and guided me through the rewrite of the first scene in Chapter A (Jason meets Sienna). The second scene (Jason investigates the audio monitors) is exactly the same as it was. I’ll tackle the third scene (Jason and Sienna again) tomorrow. Jason hasn’t really changed that much for all this angst, but at least I’ve thought things through and firmed up his backstory.

3/18/04: Paragraphs all over the workshop floor

Word count: 63704 | Since last entry: -68 | This month: 8903 I had a couple of killer days at work, leaving me with little energy for anything else, and then we had taxes to prepare (we use an accountant, but it still takes a whole evening or more to pull the papers together) and plane reservations to make for this summer’s trip to France. So no writing Tuesday or Wednesday. Tonight I started to tear Chapter A apart and reassemble it in a way that fits with the new Jason introduced in the new Chapter Zero. This involves changes in backstory, timeline, and motivation as well as attitude, though not a lot of changes in the actual incidents and actions of the chapter. As long as I was revising the chapter, I cut several paragraphs on principle, so the word count is actually going down at the moment. I’m going to count each anti-word double for purposes of my star chart (-50 = silver, -250 = gold, -500 = red), because cutting is harder than drafting, so I get a silver star for tonight’s -68 words. (This doesn’t address the question of how to handle a good solid revision session that happens to wind up with the same word count, but I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.) At the moment the chapter is spread out on the workshop floor. I anticipate it will take a couple of days to get it degreased and reassembled; then I’ll haul out my notes from critique and see if anything else needs to be revised. Then I’ll do the same for Chapter 1 — though I’m not going to attempt to make Clarity more alien at this time, that’s too big a job for now — and do the outline and cover letter. I have a little more than a week until crit group, about two weeks until the Lupton deadline. It’s going to be tight.

3/15/04: Tweaking Chapter Zero

Word count: 63704 | Since last entry: 217 | This month: 8971 Added a couple of paragraphs briefly introducing Chris, and edited the chapter to improve flow. Some of the parts that incorporated text from the original Prologue just felt like a loose pile of paragraphs; I killed a few darlings and mangled a few others beyond recognition, and I think it’s better now. Will look at it again tomorrow, but I think it’s done for sure this time. I have moved Chapter Zero and a few other files that will be used in the proposal (three-chapters-and-outline) to a separate directory, so the total word count has gone down (and will stay where it is until I get back to drafting new chapters). But the “This month” word count still includes the proposal stuff. It’s after midnight, I should have been asleep an hour ago…

3/14/04: Back from Seattle…

Word count: 65801 | Since last entry: 605 | This month: 8754 …where I did no writing whatsoever. But I am not going to let this
brief hiatus prevent me from writing every day for the rest of the month. Tonight I moved Jason behind a locked door and presented him with the object he had been seeking. I could write him out of the space as well, but I don’t think it’s necesssary. At about 2000 words I think the new Chapter Zero might be complete. I’ve gone back and added so much to it that I’m afraid it’s too densely packed with information… it’s much less of a “hook” than the old Prologue. On the other hand, it answers a lot of questions that people had about the first drafts of the early chapters. And it does end with a hook, and it does leave some questions unanswered. But there’s still some other stuff I’d like to put in, such as a brief note about Chris. I’ll sleep on it and maybe revise a bit tomorrow. After that I’ll need to substantially revise Chapter A to go with the new Chapter Zero. Chapters 1 and B might need a bit of revision as well. Then I need to complete the outline (which means fleshing out the whole second half of the book), edit it for length, and write a cover letter. Still plenty of work to do for an April 5 deadline.

3/11/04: Stupid, stupid, stupid

Word count: 65196 | Since last entry: 141 | This month: 8149 Tonight we visited a kitchen designer and wrote a large check for a retainer. Looks like we are defintely going to have the kitchen re-done this summer. We spent a long time at the showroom, looking at floor plans and cabinets and countertops. Then, after we got home, I put a couple of recently-rejected short stories back in the mail, and packed for tomorrow’s trip to Seattle. But I promised myself I would write something every day, and so I sat down and did: largely editing, amping up Jason’s reaction to the aliens and their impact on his world. But it would really have been smarter to go to sleep, because I have an early meeting tomorrow morning and a long drive right after work. I won’t be posting anything here for a few days, but I will try to write something every day anyway. Good night.